The Phillies missed the playoffs for the tenth straight year in 2021. That hasn’t been for a lack of aggressiveness, however, and they continued to load up for another shot at snapping the drought this past offseason. Philadelphia added two more big bats to a lineup already full of stars, hoping to overcome deficiencies elsewhere on the roster with an elite run-scoring unit.
Major League Signings
- RF Nick Castellanos: five years, $100MM
- LF Kyle Schwarber: four years, $79MM
- RHP Corey Knebel: One year, $10MM
- RHP Jeurys Familia: One year, $6MM
- LHP Brad Hand: One year, $6MM
- CF Odúbel Herrera: One year, $1.75MM
- 3B Johan Camargo: One year, $1.4MM
2022 spending: $64.15MM
Total spending: $204.15MM
- Team declined $15MM option on LF Andrew McCutchen in favor of $3MM buyout
- Team declined $11.5MM option on CF Odúbel Herrera in favor of $2.5MM buyout (later re-signed to cheaper deal)
Trades and Claims
- Claimed LHP Ryan Sherriff off waivers from Rays
- Claimed LHP Kent Emanuel off waivers from Astros
- Acquired RHP Nick Nelson and C Donny Sands from Yankees for minor league 1B T.J. Rumfield and minor league LHP Joel Valdez
- Acquired C Garrett Stubbs from Astros for minor league OF Logan Cerny
- Claimed LHP Scott Moss off waivers from Guardians (later outrighted to Triple-A)
- Traded IF Luke Williams to Giants for minor league IF Will Toffey
- Traded CF Adam Haseley to White Sox for minor league RHP McKinley Moore
- Acquired RHP James Norwood from Padres for minor league IF Kervin Pichardo and cash
Notable Minor League Signees
- John Andreoli, Aaron Barrett, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bellatti (later selected to 40-man roster), Kyle Dohy, Drew Maggi, Dillon Maples, Michael Mariot, James Marvel, Yairo Muñoz, Jake Newberry, Roman Quinn (later selected to 40-man roster), Ricardo Sánchez, Justin Williams, Austin Wynns
- Haseley, McCutchen, Freddy Galvis, Ronald Torreyes, Brad Miller, Hector Néris, Travis Jankowski, Archie Bradley, Ian Kennedy, Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, Brandon Kintzler, Andrew Knapp, Adonis Medina
The story for the Phillies in 2021 was much the same as it had been in prior seasons. Few teams could match the top-end talent, with Bryce Harper posting an MVP campaign and Zack Wheeler narrowly missing out on the Cy Young. The starting rotation was excellent and the team’s top position players more or less met expectations. Yet the core couldn’t entirely compensate for a weak bottom of the lineup, a below-average defense and a bullpen that stubbornly persisted among the league’s worst. The result: an 82-win season, narrowly the franchise’s best mark in a decade but in line with the average results they posted each year from 2018-20.
Failing to earn a playoff spot with this kind of core is deflating, but a top-heavy roster of this ilk is easier to address. After all, it wasn’t hard for Phils’ brass to identify the flaws. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was forthright about the team’s weaknesses at the start of the offseason. The club wasn’t committed to keeping Didi Gregorius as the primary shortstop after he struggled in the first season of a two-year deal; addressing the bullpen and outfield were priorities.
Dombrowski’s comments on Gregorius seemed to position the Phils as a viable suitor for any of the star free agent shortstops available. He name-checked top prospect Bryson Stott as a viable internal alternative, and the club’s behavior made clear that expressed faith in the 24-year-old was not mere lip service. The Phils were never closely tied to anyone of the Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, Corey Seager ilk (at least publicly), and Stott would eventually make the Opening Day roster as Gregorius’ primary competition.
Philadelphia did strike more aggressively in the other areas Dombrowski cited as targets. After buying out both Odúbel Herrera and Andrew McCutchen, they were left with two outfield vacancies alongside Harper. The Phils were linked to Starling Marte in free agency and a potential Kevin Kiermaier trade but ultimately came up empty in their pursuit of a center fielder. Just before the lockout, though, the Phils made a push for Kyle Schwarber to play left field.
A deal didn’t come together before the work stoppage, but the talks set the stage for renewed discussions a few months later. In March, the Phils and Schwarber agreed to terms on a four-year, $79MM deal. The burly left-handed hitter had struggled during the 2020 season with the Cubs, leading to an eventual non-tender. After signing on with the Nationals, Schwarber turned a corner in May and broke out as the hottest hitter on the planet by June. That continued even after an injured list stint for a hamstring strain and intervening trade to the Red Sox, with the 29-year-old looking like the kind of impact bat many have envisioned since he was selected fourth overall in the 2014 draft.
The Phillies clearly believe that’s what they’re getting, and Schwarber should be a marked upgrade over late-career McCutchen. His early tenure in Philadelphia hasn’t been great, but it’s far too soon to suggest his 2021 production was a fluke. Bringing in a bat-first player like Schwarber raised a few eyebrows, given the Phils’ longstanding defensive issues, but it was a rather straightforward pickup of one of the best players available at a position of clear need.
More surprising was how the Phillies followed up on that signing. The day after they agreed to terms with Schwarber, Philadelphia was reported to be making a strong run at Nick Castellanos. A few hours later, the Phils and Castellanos came to terms on a five-year, $100MM contract. One of 13 nine-figure deals handed out over the winter, the Castellanos signing also cost the Phils a draft choice after he’d rejected a qualifying offer from the Reds.
Castellanos is a similar player as Schwarber. A middle-of-the-lineup masher, he generates huge exit velocities and power production and consistently posts excellent numbers at the dish. Castellanos’ track record is a bit more consistent and he makes a higher rate of contact — Schwarber is more dependent on drawing walks to keep his on-base percentage up — but they’re each bat-first players with bottom-tier defensive metrics in the corner outfield.
With Harper already in tow, few would’ve envisioned the Phillies landing two of the top corner outfielders available. The implementation of the universal designated hitter does afford room in the lineup for all three players. The Phils aren’t leaving manager Joe Girardi much flexibility to rotate anyone else through the DH spot — and Harper’s been a full-time DH of late after suffering a small tear in the UCL of his throwing elbow — but the Phils have thrown defense to the wind in efforts to create an elite run-scoring group.
That’s a decision that came with its share of detractors, but it’s not without logic. Adding at least one corner outfielder opposite Harper was a necessity. Also bolstering center field would’ve been more straightforward, but the alternatives there were limited. Starling Marte was the only regular available in free agency. Players like Kevin Kiermaier, Bryan Reynolds, Cedric Mullins and even Joey Gallo were floated as possible trade candidates, but none of that group wound up changing hands. Faced with that dearth of center field options, the Phils pivoted to bringing in position player talent where opportunities presented themselves.
Would they have been better off instead signing Marte, whose deal was a near-match for Schwarber’s, alongside Castellanos? One could make that case. Yet the club was seemingly more content with the longer-term projection for Schwarber, who is four years younger than Marte with a game much less reliant on athleticism. Time will tell whether they should’ve more aggressively tried to keep the latter from the division-rival Mets, but there’s no denying the Phillies markedly improved the lineup.
That’s also true of the bullpen, where the club devoted essentially all of its remaining resources. The Phils avoided any long-term commitments there but promised a decent chunk of the 2022 payroll to typically-reliable veterans in an effort to raise the floor in the middle innings. Philadelphia landed Corey Knebel for one year and $10MM, a solid price point after the righty bounced back with a 2.45 ERA and a 29.7% strikeout rate over 27 outings for the Dodgers last season. Knebel’s 2019-20 campaigns were mostly wiped away by Tommy John surgery, and he lost a couple months to a lat injury in 2021. There are obvious durability concerns, but Knebel’s been a solidly above-average reliever when healthy since his 2017 breakout with the Brewers.
The Phils’ other bullpen pickups were more “buy low” dice rolls on formerly elite late-inning arms. Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia inked matching $6MM guarantees during Spring Training. Each was among the best relievers in the game a few years ago, but they’ve both taken steps back as they’ve entered their 30s. Hand’s velocity and swing-and-miss rate have fluctuated over the past couple seasons; Familia’s arm strength and whiffs have remained strong, but he’s been prone to bouts of wildness and occasional home run issues.
The pickups of Hand and Familia were generally reminiscent of last winter’s shot on Archie Bradley. The team has continuously shied away from longer-term commitments to relievers, seemingly averse to the volatility that plagues many late-inning arms. Attacking the bullpen with bulk lower-leverage types hasn’t worked for the Phils in years past, but it’s also hard to blame the organization for spreading their resources around. They lost Bradley, Héctor Neris and midseason trade acquisition Ian Kennedy to free agency, leaving multiple bullpen spots to plug.
Among returning relievers with 20-plus innings, only Connor Brogdon posted an ERA south of 4.00 last season. Bailey Falter and the currently-injured Sam Coonrod were the only two arms with respectable strikeout and walk numbers. José Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez are the other holdovers, joining the free agent trio of Knebel, Hand and Familia as Girardi’s most trusted arms in high-leverage spots. A trio of smaller offseason acquisitions — trade pickups Nick Nelson and James Norwood, and minor league signee Andrew Bellatti — round out the middle innings.
While the Phillies almost completely revamped last season’s bullpen, they left the starting rotation entirely unaffected. Wheeler, Aaron Nola, 2021 breakout Ranger Suárez, midseason trade pickup Kyle Gibson, and Zach Eflin are all back as the starting five. The early results have been just alright, but that’s one of the strongest on-paper groups in the majors. The Phillies probably could’ve done more to add some depth, given how thin the rotation mix is beyond that top five, but they’re clearly confident in the primary group to stay healthy and assume the bulk of the innings throughout the summer.
Castellanos and Schwarber proved the major additions on the position player side, with the rest of the unit largely status quo. J.T. Realmuto is one of the game’s best catchers. The Phils made small moves from a depth perspective, waiving Andrew Knapp and acquiring Garrett Stubbs from the Astros and Donny Sands from the Yankees. Realmuto will play as much as any backstop around the league so long as he’s healthy.
The infield consists of holdovers Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Alec Bohm and the aforementioned Stott/Gregorius tandem at shortstop. The Phils added former Brave Johan Camargo on a cheap one-year pact as utility depth, essentially replacing Ronald Torreyes in that role. Camargo has earned some early playing time with a respectable start. He’s a good defender at third base, offering Girardi a possible late-game alternative there to the bat-first Bohm, and he can cover the middle infield as needed.
Aside from shortstop, the one position the Phillies identified as a target area but didn’t meaningfully address wound up being center field. After missing on Marte and their trade targets, the club circled back to Herrera on a significantly cheaper deal than the $9MM option decision they’d passed up to open the winter.
The switch-hitting Herrera was fine but not great as the primary center fielder last season, and the options behind him aren’t certain. Mickey Moniak is on the injured list, Matt Vierling has an unspectacular minor league track record, and Simón Muzziotti has barely played above High-A. Roman Quinn was cut loose at the end of last season but brought back after failing to crack the Marlins’ roster out of Spring Training. He has returned to the majors as a defensive specialist and pinch-running option.
The Phillies nevertheless dealt away from their center field group, having soured on former eighth overall pick Adam Haseley. The former University of Virginia star has never hit much in the majors, and he didn’t perform well in Triple-A last season. The Phils dealt him to the White Sox for minor league reliever McKinley Moore, a move that was no doubt easier to swallow since Haseley had been drafted by the previous front office regime.
Time will tell whether the Phillies did enough to finally put forth a better than average on-field product. The early results don’t jump off the page; they’ve started 18-19, albeit with a +18 run differential. They enter play Thursday in second place in the NL East, six games back of the hot-starting Mets.
Anything short of a Wild Card berth would count as a failure. The organization has continued to aggressively add from the outside, and this latest spending spree took them into new territory financially. Signing Castellanos pushed the Phils’ season-opening payroll to around $229MM, shattering last year’s franchise record of approximately $191MM. For the first time in franchise history, owner John Middleton is likely to pay a luxury tax penalty, as the club’s estimated $236MM+ CBT hit is more than $6MM north of the $230MM base threshold. The fee for moderately exceeding the base threshold for the first time is marginal in the context of the team’s overall spending — roughly $1.2MM, pending future acquisitions — but it’s nevertheless a notable symbolic marker for the organization to cross.
That win-now mentality is unlikely to stop, and the Phillies figure to be aggressive around the trade deadline if they’re in contention as expected. Philadelphia’s farm system is generally regarded as one of the league’s worst, but no organization is entirely devoid of minor league talent. The Phils struck to acquire Gibson and Kennedy from the Rangers at last summer’s deadline. Dombrowski, general manager Sam Fuld and their staff will be equally eager to add this time around — with the bullpen, center field and perhaps back end of the rotation standing out as potential needs.
With more than ten years in the rearview mirror since the last playoff appearance, the Phillies are feeling as much pressure as any team in baseball to show results. Missing the postseason again would raise plenty of questions about the franchise’s outlook — with particular scrutiny likely to mount about Girardi, who’s in the final guaranteed season of a three-year contract. There’s enough talent here to expect to compete, but overarching concerns about the bullpen, defense and roster depth will persist until they start winning consistently.
Phillies went all-in on offense. Ironically, their lack of consistent offense is what’s costing them the most games so far. Will they hit more as the weather warms up? The defense and bullpen are going to be a struggle all year. I actually love the rotation.
I haven’t watched much of the Phillies this year, but has the defense been costing them a lot of runs this year? That was a huge concern for them going into the season. The team has a cumulative 3.99 ERA, which isn’t awful, but have a 3.54 FIP, 3.70 xFIP, and 3.57 SIERA. Based on the numbers alone, the pitchers could be slightly better.
@mlb1225 There were a few games were defense cost them runs, but mostly it’s the bullpen getting shellacked. The bullpen is very bad.
It’s impossible for fans to know how many games the D cost, or saved, a team runs. All we can do is look at the defensive metrics of the individuals, and surmise from that.
But seeing as how Schwarber, so far this season is -1 DRS, and -2 OAA, and Castellanos is -4 DRS, and -2 OAA, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t cost them a game or 2.
But, I’ve been wondering if playing in a smaller OF, in a park like Citizen’s, whether bad D has less of an impact over bad defenders playing in a park with a big OF.
The defense hasn’t cost any more runs than any other teams defense. Phillies fans just tend to think the Phillies are the only team in MLB that aren’t perfect in every game – no players on other teams commit errors, every other team’s relief pitchers don’t give up runs and save every game every time, other teams never leave runners on base, every other team has a rotation of 5 all star starters, etc. It’s always ONLY the Phillies
Granted defensive metrics aren’t great for the sample size we have so far, but according to Fangraphs’ DEF, they’re 20/30, what do you base your assertion that it hasn’t cost them more than it has other teams on?
I find myself in agreement..JT and Kyle are lost at the plate these days..On a positive note, Alec is the hitter we all thought he’d be..His D at 3rd while not great, is better than he had been..
A bit late for this, no?
No, considering it is the “Offseason in Review”. The title alone lets one know that they are taking a look back at what happened before the season started.
Yes, it is late, or would be under normal circumstances. But did you forget there was a lockout?
That offense took a few days off vs the Padres I guess
Two shutouts was def. unexpected in my mind. All three games were eerily similar.
they always get on a roll then have a Monday off that kills their momentum. always.
They score 33 runs (9, 12, 8, and 4) against LA in LA then come home and score 3 (0, 3, 0) against SD. SMDH.
Harper needs to be in that lineup, Hoskins does not
Trade Hoskins now
meanwhile, Hoskins won the game yesterday..
Lol. And maybe get a great prospect or 2 back like Enyel de Los Santos? Ben Lively? Phillippe Aumont? Darnell Sweeney? Jerad Eickhoff?
Eickhoff was decently valuable for, at best, the #4 piece in the Hamels deal.
Haven’t seen anything here, but there’s a story about the Phillies and a high incidence of brain cancer. David “West is the sixth former Phillies player to die of brain cancer since 2003, following Ken Brett (2003), Tug McGraw (2004), Johnny Oates (2004), John Vukovich (2007), and Darren Daulton (2017).“ The cluster is being investigated. Curiously, mostly pitchers and catchers. Strange and kind of scary.
John Rocker Fan Club
Hate your arch rivals the same way Philly fans hate Hoskins
I’m a Hoskins fan. I’ll never understand the hate that he gets.
John Rocker Fan Club
I like him too. He had a 131ops+ while only playing in 107 games last year. He draws alot of walks too which I like. He’s not really a prototypical 1B but he’s a fine player.
2021 was the outlier for Schwarber’s career. Is it really, “far too soon to suggest his 2021 production was a fluke”?
Still waiting for a few of those Dombrowski blockbuster trade deals.
It might require him to give up some of their young, minor league talent.
A “table setter” CF with speed and defense, more bullpen help and maybe another starter could help the Phillies make the playoffs this year.
Mets have been very good, but they may “come back to the pack” what with injuries (Scherzer etc…)
No thanks. Abel and Painter are the future of the rotation. Mullins has had exactly one good year in the majors so far, Bryan Reynolds is up and down and isn’t doing much at all this year, the rotation really isn’t bad overall (maybe a bad game here and there, but what starting pitcher doesn’t?), and what reliever(s) are out there and available who will do any better than who is in the bullpen now? Past track records mean absolutely nothing. How many times have we seen this? No reliever in baseball can be counted on to save every game every time.